Here’s to New Adventures

It’s been a month since I closed the door to room 202 one last time, packed the final boxes into my car, said my goodbyes, and drove away. I knew then that change was on the horizon, that this wouldn’t be an ordinary summer. New adventures awaited.

In those four short weeks there have been many adventures, I’ve been to MLB games in three states (MO, IL, WI), traveled to Lake of the Ozarks for a family reunion (including a visit to a cave), and planned a summer diving trip (CI). The biggest adventure however waits at the end of August when I move from fifth grade to third grade, from a suburban school to an urban one, from retirement in IL to a new career in WI.

I have yet to see my new classroom as the school is being cleaned and summer school is still in full swing. I have no idea what to expect when I open the door to the room for the first time. What furniture will be there, what materials, how many bulletin boards, can I hang things from the ceiling? I know I’ll need to put in time to organize the room and be ready for that first day.

I’ve briefly met my teammates and some of the other staff members. I’ll be attending some training sessions in August as I acclimate to my new environment. There will be new curriculum, new procedures, new faces, new materials. It brings me back to my first days of teaching when everything was new and I had more questions than answers.

I knew when I signed to retire four years ago that I wasn’t ready to leave education. I was hopeful I’d have an opportunity to work in an urban environment, one different from my years teaching in a well funded suburban one; a new adventure with new challenges.  This is something I’ve wanted to do. I want to use my skills, ideas and experience to make a difference in this new setting. I’ve embraced the ideals of Ellin Keene, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Ralph Fletcher, Donalyn Miller, Steven Layne, Paul Solarz (Arrr), The Two Writing Teachers and others. My hope is that I can successfully implement these ideals in my new classroom. I know it won’t be easy (wish me luck), I know this new environment will have many challenges, I know I still have a lot to learn.

It’s been a month since I closed the door to room 202 one last time, to a place where I lead workshops, served on committees, mentored new teachers and had a deep understanding of the curriculum and procedures. Soon I will open the door to my new room, to a place where I’m new and have a lot to learn, where I need mentors. Here’s to new adventures, to taking chances, to continuing to learn, to helping students flourish.

 

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The Last Tuesday in June

Can it already be the last Tuesday in June? June began as the school year ended, complete with a long list of to-dos as report cards were printed, cum folders organized and I finished packing things up, shutting the door to my classroom on the 9th.

I did have time to venture out since the final bell rang. I’ve been to Milwaukee twice, once for lunch and a lakefront walk; again for a Brewers game. I’ve been to Chicago twice too, once for a Cubs game and again for a Saturday of exploring a book fair, the Shedd, and River North. I’ve also been to St. Louis first to look at condos with my daughter and to see a Cardinals game on teacher’s night; then again as we headed to a family reunion in the Lake of the Ozarks.

Now I’m home again, still waking up early. Is it the sun shining in so early, or is it the schedule my body is accustom to? I’ve had time to read and drink coffee at a leisurely pace. Our backyard is filled with action as birds fly to and fro, frogs sing from the pond, and squirrels perform acrobatic feats as they maneuver to retrieve food set out for the birds. I enjoy watching all of them now that I have more time. Time to slow down and savor the simple things we often take for granite as we check our watches and calendars, checking off our lists.

I do need to start my own lists again, I have tasks to finish and projects to complete. There are boxes to unpack and sort in the basement, a study to organize, closets to  declutter, donations to make, yardwork to complete, birds to be fed. Somehow June seems to hold a promise that there is still a lot of time for those list items in July. June whispers: put up your feet, take your time, enjoy the moments, you have time, July is just around the corner. So here it is, the last Tuesday in June, July is only four days away. I have lots of time to accomplish my summer tasks, right?

The End Has Come #SOL

My last day in fifth-grade was June 8th. I did return to my room for a few hours on the 9th to finish packing, and return my keys along with my teacher laptop. While I knew this day was coming, it didn’t make it any easier. Tears were shed in the weeks leading up to my finale, hugs were given, final goodbyes were shared. Winne-the-Pooh’s quote “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” played through my head. As the end neared, time seemed to speed up as much as I hoped to savor those last moments. My daughter, a teacher now herself, and a friend drove up to be with me, surprising me in my classroom on June 7th. They hung out with my class, participating in field day, helping with our walking taco lunch, and then helping pack up my room. As the day ended Thursday, my fifth-graders were busy with an assembly and a golden folder ceremony, followed by a video yearbook presentation. They would be leaving the school they’d been at one last time too as they move on to middle school. Many of my girls were in tears and didn’t want to leave. Their tears gave way to tears of my own. As I said my final goodbyes to my class I exchanged high-fives, fist-bumps, and hugs as tears streamed down my cheeks. Where did the time go? How could it already be the end of the year?

I’m now beginning the second week of retirement. My district email no longer works, there are no messages from parents or colleagues, no summer workshops, no must read YA or professional books. I’ve already seen the doctor for a yearly check-up and had my teeth cleaned; traveled to St. Louis for a four-day visit with my daughter; attended baseball games in Chicago (Cubs), St. Louis (Cardinals), and Milwaukee (Brewers); and spent time with family and friends. I’ve had time for morning coffee in a favorite chair and reading too. Soon we will be heading to a family reunion, so I’m packing and preparing. Adjusting to a less scheduled pace takes time, just as it has in past summers. This one is different however, I’m not planning for the next school year (yet). I’m not sure what adventures await. (Hopefully I’ll still be working with students – just not sure where yet.)

#SOL The Finale

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It’s the final day of March,
the final day of the challenge,
the final day of Spring Break.
I made it, writing all thirty-one days.

It’s the final stretch of the school year,
the final chance to inspire students,
The final marking period.
We made it, two-thirds of the way.

It’s my final year in room 202,
My final months in fifth-grade here,
My final moments in a job I love.
I’m nearing the finish line here.

I know the days and weeks ahead will be filled with memories, celebrations and some tears. My students will be leaving the familiarity of their elementary school at the end of the year as they move on to middle school. I will be leaving the familiarity as well, hoping to find a position in a new school, in a new state, where I can continue to teach. It’s the last act before the final curtain falls. Our finale in room 202. Soon we will take our final bows, wave goodbye and head out. New adventures and  new experiences await.

 

 

 

#SOL An Owl at Dusk

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At dusk yesterday an owl came to visit. It was perched above a bird feeder in our back yard gazing out at the pond. It’s head turned as we watched, surveying the landscape. The owl sat there for over five minutes before flying off over the water. While we’ve heard owls nearby before and seen them on rooftops, they usually come later in the evening making them even harder to see. Here was this owl however, looking out and embracing the day’s end. How fortunate that we were able to catch a glimpse of this majestic creature before dark.

SOL A Train to Chicago

It’s already Wednesday. My Spring Break is over half over. Last year I spent the week in the Cayman Islands, visiting my husband’s brother and his brother’s wife, where we finished our scuba certification. This year I went to St. Louis for a few days, returning to Chicago on an Amtrak.

The train makes stops at many small and a few medium-sized towns on its way from St. Louis to Chicago. Along the way there are farms, silos, grain elevators, and fields. You also see backyards. Homes near the tracks are not always in great shape, the yards have items strewn about. It takes you away from the front of towns where the façade is more welcoming. This view from the tracks is perhaps a more accurate picture of the community as a whole. It’s an often hidden piece.

The fields and farms are ubiquitous until you reach Joliet where suburban sprawl begins. The trip is about five and one half hours to Union Station. The temperatures drop as you move north. Flowers were blooming in Missouri, here they are just beginning to bud. Union Station is filled with commuters, travelers and workers. There are two sides to the station – South with even numbered tracks, North with odd numbered tracks making up 30 in and out of this hub. In St. Louis in contrast there were only two.

Chicago can be overwhelming to a novice. It’s big, noisy and busy. At the station it’s easy to lose your way if you’re unfamiliar. I’ve been through this station many times on Metra, our region transit system. I’ve entered on Amtrak as well. While I’m not an everyday traveler, I can find my way around the station and the city. It’s a great place to people watch, shop and visit. After my journey I was happy to be heading North and home again. I still have two days of Spring Break left.

#SOL Overtesting

I spent another day in my daughter’s class today. There wasn’t much time for teaching since the teachers all needed to give online assessments for ELA. The students reviewed yesterday, they made goals, and were shown the score ranges for below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. These tests take up a great deal of time. They are monthly tests since the school is on the state watch list. Today the Internet didn’t work well. Students had to wait, and wait…it was apparent that the testing wasn’t going to work today adding to the already stressful situation. The students were restless and struggled staying focused. I read to them a few times while my daughter tried to find around the issue and be able to test. It made me sad to see the teachers (and students) in such a situation only to realize it meant an extra day focused on testing rather than learning. Ugh, my heart hurt.

The teachers here also have had many changes in their literacy program. They started the year with “Wonders” a basal like literacy program. Moved on to a literacy block with guided reading, student choice and more authentic practice, and then were told to use “Read 108” with students testing in the basic or lower ranges. Her classroom has a fairly large library supplemented by my teacher friends and me. Her books had been organized by genre, but now all have lexile and guided reading levels on them. (My thoughts based on best practices: Children are not levels, and need choice and time to read if they are to truly improve.) These students are struggling, their home life is not always positive, they continue to see the,selves as scores and levels. The teachers know this isn’t right, but the state forces their hand. I wonder how many other places are like this too.

I will continue to try to help my daughter from afar. I know it’s hard, and at times the pressures are greater than anyone needs. I know that when she steps into my classroom she sees the other side. It’s not fair to her that they are over testing or that her students are over tested. I wonder how this can change, how anyone thinks more testing will hope.

We both have state mandated testing coming up soon too. My students will take the PARCC her’s will take MAP. More time spent away from learning. More time looking at scores rather than students. Change needs to happen.

#SOL Comparison: Urban vs. Suburban School

Today I went to school with my daughter. Her spring break was last week, mine is this week. She spent two days in my classroom while visiting us near Chicago. I drove back with her to St. Louis where she teaches. Her school is different in so many ways:

It’s 1 – 6, mine is K – 5.
Her students arrive at 8:30 and don’t leave until 4:30, mine arrive at 8:10 and leave at 3:30.
She has 25 students, i have 17.
Her students all receive free lunch, none of mine do.
She has limited resources and buys her own paper, we always have supplies and paper available.
Her students are one-to-one with computers, we have 9 computers per room.
Her room is not cleaned and vacuumed carefully, I never thought of how lucky I am to have a clean room each day.
She has limited storage, I have plenty.
She supervises recess after lunch, we don’t.
Her books need to be organized by levels (:-( ), mine are organized by genre.|
Students move in and out during the year, ours seldom do.
Her students wear uniforms, mine wear designer and sports wear.
She didn’t receive a raise this year, I did.
Her school is twice as big as mine with four principals, we have one principal.

I’m pretty sure there are more schools like hers than like mine. I wish there was a way to even things out. I worry about our country’s future. I think about “white privilege” in ways I never had before. I help in ways I can, however small they may be, I know it’s not enough. I look at the teachers in her school, most dedicated and hardworking, facing obstacles you can’t imagine unless you are there. I have hope, but worry.

#SOL Cookies in the Classroom

Yesterday I made cutout sugar cookies. cookiesI used some new cutters we had found at a small
knife and chef supply store on Fullerton Street that we wandered into while spending time in Chicago. A seahorse, a conch shell, and an angelfish all made their debut. It’s not often anymore that I make cookies. I’ll make them at Christmas, and sometimes for Easter. I once made them for birthday treats, holiday parties at school or special classroom treats. Our district no longer allows food treats, so I can’t bring them in for my students either. Our kids are both grown now, and my husband and I do our best to keep away from too many sweets. (Well, we try to anyway.)

My daughter teaches near St. Louis. It’s her second year there. Her school still allows homemade treats, so these cookies will be heading to St. Louis for her class. They have been studying the ocean, so my new shapes are perfect! I’ll be heading south with them too, spending a few days in her room since it’s my spring break. (She spent Thursday and Friday with my class this past week since it was her break.) Her students don’t have much compared to mine. They all receive breakfast and lunch at school. Some have food packed in backpacks for the weekend. It’s a very different reality. That’s why homemade treats are still allowed. It’s something they don’t often get.

I always learn from my trips to her school and the opportunity to work with her students. I think she learns from her visits to my school too. We share ideas and stories. We both teach 5th grade. Fifth graders are more similar than different. I wish all of our children had the resources they need to thrive. I know my cookies will sweeten up their day, I just wish I could do more for these students.

#SOL It’s a Rainy Saturday

It’s a rainy Saturday, our pond is alive with activity.
Canadian geese and a few blue-winged teals swim.
A muskrat carries branches to and fro, building a summer home.
The trees sway in the breeze, waving branches with new buds.
The grass glistens and seems to be a bit greener.
The hyacinth and daffodils are sprouting, getting ready to bloom.

It’s a rainy Saturday, gray skies and steady precipitation.
Yesterday the temperatures soared to 80°.
The sun was bright and we spent extra time outside enjoying the warmth.
Today the temperatures have dropped to the 40°s.
We’re headed to Chicago for the day since our daughter is home.
We will be walking in the rain as we enjoy time in the city.

It’s a rainy Saturday, rain is important in Spring.
I may wish for sunshine, however without rain there would be:
No pond with waterfowl, no muskrat,
No flowers or green grass.
It’s a rainy Saturday, but we will make the best of it.
It is a Saturday without the schedule of a weekday.